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No-Exit Endgame: Can Israel make peace by itself?

Left Out: Liberal Jews and Palestinians struggle to make their voices heard -- and to say the right things.


"I spent a dozen years researching a Hitler book," Rosenbaum says. "And what struck me were the number of times Hitler made clear his exterminationist designs and how often they were dismissed as rhetoric. The Israelis are facing a people who regularly use extermination rhetoric, and it is not alarmist and it is entirely understandable to respond to that kind of rhetoric." But Chava Koster, a granddaughter of Dutch Holocaust survivors, cautions: "The lesson of the Holocaust is not to fall into the trap of hatred."

Dennis Prager, the conservative Jewish columnist and talk-show host, got in his own peculiar Holocaust scenario in his piece titled "Is It 1938 Again for the Jews?" In it, he writes: "Just one generation after nearly every Jew in Europe was murdered . . . the remnant that remains in the New Jersey-size Jewish state is threatened with extinction." (Tell that to the residents of Jenin. . . . Sometimes you have to remind people that more than three times as many Palestinians as Israelis have died in the recent conflict.) And yet Prager has seized on something. Somehow, and it seems to be primarily the result of the cruelty and hideousness of the "technique" of suicide bombing, this last conflict has become -- at least in people's minds -- a battle in some sense for Israel's existence.

In at least the early stages of Oslo, there was a sort of wide-eyed optimism among American Jews, and a sense that maybe the responsibility toward Israel did not have to be a heavy, painful, life-risking burden, but rather could be something pleasant, and fun, and safe. Now, with Israel -- or at least Jerusalem -- under a kind of siege even as its lieutenants stand on mounds of West Bank rubble of their own creation, Jews here are, as the saying goes, freaked, but ready to assume a kind of responsibility for the state, one that entails solidarity and more or less unquestioning support. It's risky for them to be in that position, of course, because it gives the Israelis, with Sharon at the helm, a free-ish hand.

"Those who see it as an existential issue will pull out all the stops to prevent Israel from being destroyed," Jacoby warns. "By pulling out all the stops, it could accelerate the situation so that it spirals into an even worse condition, to the point where the country's survival really could be threatened." Still, as Jacoby points out, things are very different now for the Jews from the way they were back in 1938, no matter what Prager may say. "We have a Jewish state," Jacoby notes. "We have American Jews."

"The big change in Jewish history is that the killing of Jews does not happen without response," says Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief of The New Republic. Again, Chafets must have the last word. The main lesson we learned from the Holocaust is not, as Chava Koster of the Village Temple would have it, that Jews should "turn away from hate" but that Jews should buy weapons. "Now we got da bomb," Chafets says, "and we got da country."

What is peace? This is what it boils down to in the end. So many now are saying that this -- what we have now: tanks, rubble, blood -- is the only way to make peace with the Palestinians. "When the Palestinians have been shown that they can't behave this way anymore," says Chafets, "then it will be possible to make an arrangement with them." Peace is now "an arrangement," and an ominous one at that. "The process," "an arrangement." Peace, Amos Oz used to say back when he was more comfortable with the idea, is not a touchy-feely condition of love and delight. It's more like a bad marriage, arranged from the beginning and enduring through mechanisms of legal bonds and mutual distancing. "There is no deal while Israeli children are being blown up every day," Eric H. Yoffie, president of the Reform movement's Union of American Hebrew Congregations, says. "But people who say there will never be compromise, never be a Palestinian state, never be peace! That's not our view."

I lived in Jerusalem for almost four years. I thought it was a dangerous place then. We had an assassination (Yitzhak Rabin, you remember him), at least two bus bombings on Jaffa Street, and at least two suicide bombings, one in the market and one on Ben Yehuda. My baby was born in Jerusalem three weeks before Rabin was killed. My children went to school much too close to those bus-suicide bombings. And yet those days seem peaceful and old-fashioned when I consider them through the new lens of this crisis. I felt the Israelis' pain then, but nowhere near as strongly as I feel it as I wait in line at Starbucks on Upper Broadway, when I think of my cafés in Jerusalem and how I would never go meet friends there now, and of how one of my old haunts, Moment Café on Azza Street, was obliterated in a moment. I'm sad and hurt to see my city shut down, and Ramallah, too, another place I used to visit, and Bethlehem, and Beit Jala, and almost every place I once cared about or enjoyed -- everything's shut or bombed out, or bulldozed, or closed, or off-limits or inaccessible, or gutted, or mired in crossfire or defaced with bullet holes.

And yet, like a little fool, I still hope for peace. Because I was lucky; as a journalist who could move from one side to the other, I happen to know that both sides are human. (Oops, isn't that "moral equivalence"? Verboten. Well: Sorry. Too bad.) I know that both are capable of thought, and capable of compromise. In quiet moments, I nurture crazy ideas: that somehow both sides will pull out of this nightmare mess and a real state for the Palestinians will be established and terror will end.

In reality I know: We are so far from peace right now. And yet, what is the alternative? To picture a world without peace is too gruesome, and may mean, in the end, after the next war, a world without Israel. Peace: Ain brera.

I lived in Jerusalem for almost four years. I thought it was a dangerous place then. We had an assassination (Yitzhak Rabin, you remember him), at least two bus bombings on Jaffa Street, and at least two suicide bombings, one in the market and one on Ben Yehuda. My baby was born in Jerusalem three weeks before Rabin was killed. My children went to school much too close to those bus-suicide bombings. And yet those days seem peaceful and old-fashioned when I consider them through the new lens of this crisis. I felt the Israelis' pain then, but nowhere near as strongly as I feel it as I wait in line at Starbucks on Upper Broadway, when I think of my cafés in Jerusalem and how I would never go meet friends there now, and of how one of my old haunts, Moment Café on Azza Street, was obliterated in a moment. I'm sad and hurt to see my city shut down, and Ramallah, too, another place I used to visit, and Bethlehem, and Beit Jala, and almost every place I once cared about or enjoyed -- everything's shut or bombed out, or bulldozed, or closed, or off-limits or inaccessible, or gutted, or mired in crossfire or defaced with bullet holes.

And yet, like a little fool, I still hope for peace. Because I was lucky; as a journalist who could move from one side to the other, I happen to know that both sides are human. (Oops, isn't that "moral equivalence"? Verboten. Well: Sorry. Too bad.) I know that both are capable of thought, and capable of compromise. In quiet moments, I nurture crazy ideas: that somehow both sides will pull out of this nightmare mess and a real state for the Palestinians will be established and terror will end.

In reality I know: We are so far from peace right now. And yet, what is the alternative? To picture a world without peace is too gruesome, and may mean, in the end, after the next war, a world without Israel. Peace: Ain brera.

 

From the May 6, 2002 issue of New York Magazine.

 

 

 
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